So far we have looked at books dedicated to Christmas and festive traditions – however the festive season also works its way into classic novels. Behind today’s Advent door we have hidden Emma by Jane Austen, where one of the funniest scenes in the book takes place on Christmas Eve.
The evening itself is already on tenterhooks – the Woodhouse family and respective friends, including local vicar Mr Elton, have been invited to dine at their neighbours, the Westons. Such an event is met with a mixed response: Mr Woodhouse, Emma’s father, is making the highly unusual move of venturing out on such a cold night and Harriet Smith, Emma’s close friend, is laid up in bed with a sore throat. Emma’s sister, Isobella, is loath to leave her children and brother in law, Mr John Knightley, seemingly finds the invitation itself a mark of arrogance. ‘A man’ said he, ‘must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him’, of course entirely missing the point of the Weston’s invitation to join them in good cheer and good food (but in truth, who hasn’t had this thought cross their mind when all you want to do is stay in for an evening with some Baileys and your jammies?!) Moreover, during the course of the evening it dawns on Emma that, despite her machinations, Mr Elton may well be in love with her, rather than the poor, sore throated Harriet Smith. And all the while, the snow comes down, heavier and heavier.
In the advent of falling snow and anxious guests, the merry bunch must make an abrupt departure from the Westons warm hearth – it is in this moment of exit that Emma finds herself alone in a carriage with Mr Elton, the rest of her family having merrily scooted off to beat the snow. She finds ‘her subject cut up – her hand seized – her attention demanded’ as Mr Elton declares his ‘ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion’, which Emma swiftly and disbelievingly rejects. Awkwardness and silence ensues, much to the horror of Emma and the delight of the reader.
Austen looks closely at the miniate of human behaviour, gently pointing out the resentments and pleasures associated with the season and how gathering a group of people at Christmas is a microcosm of wider human society. Wonderful reading to be indulged in during the Christmas break.
Imogen and the Festival Team x